Today I am savoring my Cuban pastries a little bit longer and more car rides are spent listening to Bob Dylan and George Harrison. I’m taking more of my time in garden centers and missing Jupiter a little bit more. I would give just about anything to listen to any story that I’ve heard countless times over and over again; to hear what store he snuck the dog into this time; to have The Concert for Bangladesh up to full volume on the living room TV; to pick up the phone on a lonely lunch break to hear a “love ya, kid”, “call your mom, she misses you. We both do”, or have to pull the phone away from a blaring laugh coming through the speaker. I want to have to tell him the name of a band for the fifth time or be forced to figure out a forgotten name with the mere description, “you know him, he’s a young kid from church.” I want to rant together about the prosperity gospel and the things people care too much or too little about.
Selfishly, I want him back.
My dad was my first and longest best friend and he did a darn good job at it, loving me well regardless if living well wasn’t as easy. He knew first-hand the effects of redemption and the grace we receive in the midst of deep struggle and he used it to bring forth the best of others. He was a giver.
Our evening beach trips and his love for fishing gave me my love for the ocean.
Each meal made me a fellow foodie.
His career gave me all the green in these thumbs.
Our car rides gave me an appreciation for music.
My knack for belting out every word if a song with zero musical talent and my unique way with words, that’s from him too.
Through his growth, I was given a glimpse of grace and the Gospel in my own home.
The loss of one so close, my very own dad, is the most unique and unanticipated event that has yet to happen in my 23 years. The near 48 hours spent in an ICU waiting room and the days following have been swirled with fear, joy, overwhelming thankfulness, laughter, deepest sadness, sweet remembrance, tears that seemed to come from every part of my body, and the most covering comfort I have ever known. The prior, present, and post, have been woven with sheer Goodness. I’ve said to anyone who asks that nothing about this seeming ripping away was easy, yet it was as easy as it could have possibly been. I think I’ve coined the phrase ‘oddly peaceful’ at this point and I really cannot understand how anyone could endure such a loss without Christ and the community He provides. There are endless small stories that piece together the events that lead to the loss of my dad but what captivates me is how the Lord completely flips this world upside down—right side up, rather.
He led my dad to finish well, so well.
Many knew my dad’s deep love for the city of Belle Glade, really any urban youth, and students at church. The man in preppy shorts and Ralph Lauren shirts could actually relate. He poured into them whether they wanted it or not and connected in a way so life-giving and genuine. The rarity of consistency was found in him and any boys may just have a brighter future now because of the crazy old white guy who didn’t give up. Only the Lord could write such a story.
What not all got to see though was how my family grew in sisters and brothers throughout high school and I had very little to do with it. I will be forever thankful that he could walk me down the aisle but gosh, I can’t help tearing up at the other daughters that won’t have him at theirs. He was a good dad to not just the three he fathered, but to any young man or woman who got to spend time in his home.
What even fewer go to see was his marriage to my mom (Sorry ma, you’re gonna have to read this here because typing is the only way I can get it out). I cannot think about my parents’ marriage without my mind being full with the sheer faithfulness of God. He kept them together whether either one of them liked it or not and my Lord did they finish well. He called my dad to work even harder at being a husband in the last few years and He grew my mom too. My dad paid no mind to how to do so precisely, he just pressed on in full force as usual. I could feel the growth without even living in the house. I remember multiple times my dad telling me over the phone how proud he was of my mom, how he loved her and felt closer to her more now than the 24 years before. I had never been so glad for them as the Lord had answered my longest prayer. In the past few months my mom stopped working for a while and now we can see the kindness in God’s plan. My parents (and Grace of course) got to go away together which nearly never happened. While it was not the “hippy road trip” in an RV in tie dye shirts my dad dreamed of, it was perfect for them. It was long overdue and I’m sure more healing than any of the three of us know.
From the moment my dad suffered whatever happened in his brain that Friday morning God put His own goodness on display. My mom was certainly not alone as within hours, the Tardonia family and friends took over the waiting room per usual. For you Parenthood fans out there, imagine the Bravermans times ten. My dad didn’t suffer long. He was likely just waiting-impatiently as ever- for us to let him go. We are ever grateful that his doctor was a friend first and we were certainly not lacking in medical training, encouragement, or food (of course) among loved ones. He brought friends close. God immediately used his people to fill us with exactly who and what we needed for each moment, answering countless prayers for peace and comfort—never in my life have I felt prayer for me so deeply and believe my faith is strengthened as a result. He filled that waiting room with feeling- allowing tears to flow, laughter to replace worry, and His own breath to soothe our aching hearts.
In those cold plain hallway moments of attempting to process my sad reality I could not pray all the prayers I so needed but the Spirit would do what my family and I could not do for ourselves. He would surround us when we wanted to run away. When reality would slap away any feeling of surreal-ness, our most honest words would be accepted by my closest. Many have said that my mom and I are so strong. We’re not. Well, may be just a little. Any strength we are able to exude comes from who we’re surrounded by. This is not what we wanted at all but God has proven that His plans are better over and over again so much so that we can believe Him still even now, even if it takes some mustering up. Even in loss, rather than searching for why’s, we can rest and rejoice because beyond our understanding, he prepared us for exactly this.
Isaiah 61 says,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified…
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.”
And that’s just what He did and is doing for His aching and questioning people.
I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to describe the experience of letting a most loved one off man’s machines and watching as their heart flutters and they go Home, but I can say that it sure does make somebody feel complete powerlessness. It goes so much deeper than trusting in a “better place” in which one now rests. It’s as sad as it is beautiful and among other lessons, God has used this time to show me just how much I cling to this earth. I wasn’t worried about my dad; he was going where he was made to go; he was finally fully okay. I was not okay. I was hurting like never before but as I feared about how my family and I would heal and start tomorrow without the largest personality most of us has known, He was already enabling us to do so. Feeling his absence still comes in waves and I suddenly start to feel all the peace being pulled away. He then reminds me still that while my good earthly father is no longer present, He, my ultimate and greatest Father’s presence has never changed. While my dad was so close to me, he was not ultimately mine to keep. I’m struck with the understanding that if I’m more excited to go home to Heaven because my dad is there, I’ve missed its glory and true lure all along.
Admittedly yet un-purposefully tired myself attempting to make this something close to conclusive when it cannot be. I’m thankful however, for all the good shown to me in the worst of times and the opportunity to share it (hopefully somewhat clearly). In this great loss, I have seen firsthand how God’s lovingkindness is truly all-powerful and truly enough. It’s sufficient to break through the worst of the worst and it’s exactly what can cause anyone see any good at all in the most dreadful of days. For even darkness is as light with Him.
But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.
9 I will thank you forever, because you have done it.
Your girls are going to be okay.